Auratic encounters with posthumous literary celebrity in Henry James’s late Victorian tales: desiring the dead

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Abstract

Henry James was well known for his anxieties about the Victorian celebrity industry, and his particular concerns about posthumous intrusions into the lives of literary icons. Yet, at the same time, he betrayed a necromantic fascination with the private affairs of those authorial greats who predeceased him. This fascination spills over into three of his late Victorian tales: ‘The Aspern Papers’ (1888), ‘John Delavoy’ (1898) and ‘The Real Right Thing’ (1899). Through their representations of affective objects, sacralised spaces, and living conduits to the dead, these stories explore the sensory and intellectual pleasures that arise from auratic encounters with deceased literary celebrities. Although the tales remain ambivalent towards the prospect of posthumous exposure, I argue that they nevertheless understand the allure of ‘haptic fandom’, and consequently demonstrate a tacit sympathy towards individuals’ desires for communion with the illustrious dead.
Original languageEnglish
JournalVictoriographies
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 27 Sep 2021

Keywords

  • aura
  • fame
  • haptic fandom
  • necrophilia
  • relics
  • shrines

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